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For Hindus in America, it's an intentional choice

For Hindus in America, it's an intentional choice

Author: Denise Ford-Mitchell
Publication: MLive.com
Date: July 4, 2008

With the exception of special observances, followers of Hinduism rarely worship together.

Hindu worship -- or puja -- is primarily an individual activity rather than a communal service, says Midland resident Sambasiba R. Allada.

"Worship for us is something we do on a daily basis at home," explained Allada, 74. "We make personal offerings such as a few flowers from sacred waters or incense to The Deity and pray.

"For special religious festivals, we gather at the temple in Flint. However, there's no head of the church or official leader as such," the retired engineer said.

There are no Hindu shrines in Saginaw, Midland or Bay City, so the 250 mid-Michigan followers attend services at Flint's 26-year-old Sri Paschima Kashi Viswanatha Temple/Kashi Temple.

It's one of 24 Hindu facilities in Michigan. Last month, Grand Rapids Hindus opened the doors to the West Michigan Hindu Temple in Ada.

With an estimated 870 million followers worldwide -- including slightly more than 1.1 million in America -- and texts dating back thousands of years, Hinduism is the world's third-largest religion behind Christianity and Islam, according to the World Christian Database at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

The recent release of Mike Myers' comedy film "The Love Guru" has sparked interest, questions and concerns of offensive depictions of the Hindu faith.

"To be Hindu in America is much more an intentional choice than it is in India," said Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies and director of The Pluralism Project at Harvard University in an Internet report. "Even if you're first generation, you have to decide if you perpetuate it or if you just kind of let it go."

Hindu worship (puja) involves images of gods/goddesses (murtis), prayers and chanting of mantras, and use of diagrams of the universe known as yantras. Worship of the image or icon of God/Goddess is the most important part of Hindu worship. Followers repeat the names of favorite gods and goddesses (ishta devata) and mantras, at shrines or puja rooms, personal worship rooms in their homes, according to a report on Hinduism on hinduism.about.com.

Puja rooms vary from a room, a small altar or simply pictures or statues of The Deity in a specific location of a Hindu follower's home.

Nityas are daily rituals performed as many as three times per day. These consist of offerings made at the home shrine or worshipping the family deities.

Naimittika are rituals that occur only at certain times during the year, such as the celebration of festival's in temples or offering thanksgiving. And Kamyas are pilgrimages to holy places such as Banares, Allahabad in India and temples, mountains and other sacred sites for ritual bathing (to wash sins away), spiritual purification and ceremonies to obtain the blessings of The Deity.

For example, the Kumbh Mela naimittika happens only once every 12 years. Up to 10 million devotees share in ritual bathing at the Kumbh Mela festival at Allahabad, where the waters of the Ganges and Jumna rivers combine.

"The biggest difference between Hinduism and Christianity is that Hindus believe the ultimate divine deity reveals itself in many, many forms such a personal god or an animal or as a presence," said Drew E. Hinderer, professor of philosophy and religion at Saginaw Valley State University. "Hinduism is very inclusive in many ways and forms, whereas Christianity says there is one savior for all mankind and that is Jesus Christ.

"And performing prayers at home altars enables believers to connect with the divine on a much more personal level. Hinduism is very much like the old cliche that 'there are many paths up the mountain, but the view from the top is the same,' "Hinderer said.

- Denise Ford-Mitchell is a staff writer for The Saginaw News.

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